The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines against Coronavirus have been shown to still be highly effective against the Indian variant after two jabs, new studies have revealed.

A study by Public Health England (PHE) has concluded that both jabs are “highly effective” against the B.1.617.2 after both doses have been delivered, offering a similar level of protection to that provided against the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in Kent last year.

The study, which ran from April 5th to May 16th, found the Pfizer jab was 88 per cent effective against symptomatic disease arising from the Indian variant two weeks after the second dose, compared with 93 per cent efficacy against the Kent variant. The AstraZeneca vaccine had 60 per cent effectiveness against the Indian variant, compared with 66 per cent against the Kent strain.

PHE explained that the difference in effectiveness came from the fact the Pfizer rollout had started earlier, leading to more second doses being given sooner. In addition, the AstraZeneca vaccine takes longer to reach its full effectiveness.

Both vaccines were 33 per cent effective against the B.1.617.2 strain three weeks after the first dose, compared with 50 per cent against the B.1.1.7 variant. This larger difference emphasises the importance of getting both jabs.

No data is available yet for the Moderna vaccine, which is now being used in the UK, as this is being delivered in smaller numbers and its use has only just begun.

This finding has significant implications for the pharmaceutical distribution sector, as it means it can continue to distribute the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines around the world, either as government orders or through Covax, in the knowledge that the jabs will be effective against the B.1.617.2 wherever it arises.

Health secretary Matt Hancock called the PHE research “groundbreaking” and welcomed the findings.

“We can now be confident that over 20 million people – more than one in three – have significant protection against this new variant,” he remarked, adding that the protection was growing daily as ever more people got their “vital” second dose.

The UK government has been prioritising second doses and seeking to increase vaccination rates at all ages in certain hotspot areas for the B.1.617.2 variant in a bid to keep the number down, amid concerns that it spreads much more easily than the Kent variant.

Bolton has seen the highest rate of the variant and the Bolton Royal Hospital has reported a large increase in people presenting there with symptoms, although serious cases remain few. On May 20th the case rate reached 451 per 100,000 people, by far the highest in England.

The government has responded by urging people not to travel into or out of Bolton from other areas. It has also issued similar advice for seven other hotspots.

Most of these hotspots have high proportions of ethnic minority people, groups among whom vaccine take-up has been low, a likely factor in the surges.

Across the UK, the level of vaccine hesitancy among BAME groups has declined, according to a new government study. However, while in the UK population as a whole 93 per cent are positive about the benefits of the jab, around 30 per cent of black Britons are still hesitant about taking it.